As expected, IMTS presented a great assortment of new machines and technologies, and was a great place to gage the strategies that machine tool manufacturers are developing.
Some manufacturers were demonstrating simpler, easy to use, less expensive machines. Those machine tool builders are catering to a segment of the market that consists of entry-level machinists and shops. While equipped with computer controls, the machines and their software are designed to produce relatively non-complex parts. Such equipment is being marketed as entry-level machines or inexpensive additions to enhance capacity.
On the other hand, the most advanced machines shown were multi-axis, multi-tasking units employing sophisticated software to deliver extraordinarily complex parts. Price would need to be no object to anyone considering buying one of these machines, but there is a great return on the investment: These machines make high-end parts that sell at premium prices.
There were many new machines in the middle of these extremes that demonstrated incremental advancements in cutting metal. Whether incorporating higher spindle speeds, high-pressure coolant abilities, more complex software packages to improve user-friendliness or some other advance, Chicago's McCormick Place halls were packed with technologies to make any machinist drool.
However, there was a set of machines—a new class of equipment—that pushed technologies in a different way: Hybrid machines that combined technologies. Whether they combined wire EDM and laser, EDM and waterjet or other devices these machines demonstrated advanced methods of cutting in a variety of ways and in a variety of designs.
The common thread for these machines is that they are controlled by sophisticated software that hasn't been available previously.
These machines are the future, and will take their place alongside high-speed spindle technology, bar feeders and other advances that have boosted productivity and efficiency in the shop.
We have a story on this type of technology in this issue, beginning on page 46.
The machine we talk about in this issue was not at IMTS and, while it doesn't yet combine two technologies on a single machine platform, it is representative of the future, and it's a combined technology waiting to be put into practice.
Demonstrating such crossbred machines is one of the underlying reasons to have a major international trade show. While the shows provide platforms for presenting and selling the latest advances in equipment, they also create a fertile atmosphere for equipment engineers.
Anyone walking the show floor has the potential to see technology they might need to fill the orders in their shops, but there also is the chance to get the idea that two technologies were made for each other, and that they can be put together.